Listening to life from a space of silence


"Illness and death concern me less than life, which is what I would really like to resolve or to accept". This is what I told my niece Lucia more than a week ago when I was about to begin my silent retreat. In a recent colonoscopy, which is not so unusual at my age, 47, they saw a "mass" which they did not call a polyp. "Mass" was also the word they used in 2007 to talk about a cancerous tumor in my brain and the reason they have rereferred me now for more tests, a CAT scan, and to a digestive surgeon.

It smells like cancer again, doesn't it? Even more so in someone with my medical history. However, almost no professional dares to offer the "C" word until suddenly you realize that your next appointment is at the oncology department and then there's no need to say it. This is exactly what happened to me in 2007. In fact, on this last occasion nobody spoke to me directly but to my sisters while I was recovering from the sedation. I trust my sisters completely, but I would have preferred to be the one who received the information. It is clear that I have very personal reasons to help make the very important work done by health care professionals more individualized and humane, more compassionate.

I had planned a silent retreat in my own house before these news, the true topic of the current contribution to this blog. Stopping (or meditating) during the day helps me reformulate (1) what on earth I do want; (2) attend better to what is in front of my eyes to use it and build what I want; and (3) do it with that soft attitude that I call kindness (or, like somebody else said, "without too much nor too little effort, just the right amount, with ease and love"). Stopping for a few days, if you can do it, has the same extraordinary effect, but multiplied.

Ever since the pandemic started las March, I wished to stop and attend more, I wished to speak, think and do less. However, I felt trapped in an even more frantic rhythm as many of us. I had signed up for a 40-day long retreat in August in Morocco that was cancelled for obvious reasons. I decided to do it myself and leave behind email, WhatsApp, projects, conversations, for a few days. I do it at home, where it is cheaper and more difficult. Whether or not "I could do it", as I said earlier, was key and I did not know it until tried it.

I am not attending to illness or death during these days but to life overall. I am speaking about my own life in its context including, yes, this pandemic and the possibility of another cancer episode. Above all, I aspire to attend to a topic that has kept me busy for years: this unhealthy, rushed, overwhelming life style of our society. It led me to reduce progressively my work hours, then to change my job for another one with lower salary and benefits but, in theory, less demanding. and finally to leave the institution where I had worked for almost 20 years, becoming independent without a fixed income and just a little bit less stressed out. I must confess that my desire to do less has turned along the way into another task in my own unhealthy, rushed, overwhelming to-do-list.

The old song by Simon & Garfunkel, The Sound of Silence, and particularly the following verses, resonates in my head while I search in silence precisely for an ally that helps illuminate this other more terrible and darker silence, which has been imprisoning our world long before this pandemic.

In the naked light I saw

10,000 people maybe more.
People talking without speaking,
people hearing without listening,
people writing songs that voices never shared.
No one dared, disturb the sound of silence.

Cancer, if you believe me after watching the initial video at the home page of this web site, does not make me too worried once again; I feel strong and healthy and in an excellent mood. The seriousness of this topic is nothing compared to the one of life stress, although both topics are related without a doubt. I tried to change what I could change, and although I was not lying to myself assuming it all depended on me, I believe I underestimated the strength of inertia and the pressure by everything and everybody around me to make things stay the way they always have been. Investing more in my personal development, more in being, and less in doing, in material things, intellectual development or status, would be easier if there was a collective turn in that direction. But the collective also depends on me. At least, I can choose these two weeks in silence.